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Trump’s Dog Whistle Presidency

Trump’s campaign knew what they were doing when they tweeted a Nazi symbol and scheduled a rally in Tulsa on Juneteenth

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

On Thursday, two days before Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where the president will reportedly give a speech on race, his campaign ran an ad on Facebook decrying “far left mobs,” and displaying an image once used to mark prisoners in Nazi concentration camps. Business as usual for a president whose bigotry comes as easily as breathing.

Trump’s campaign responded to criticisms of the symbol — an upside-down red triangle — by claiming it was a common antifa logo (it is not). But debating the meaning behind the Trump administration’s many dog whistles — whether it’s the president calling Covid-19 the “Wuhan virus,” his anti-Semitic musings about George Soros, or his campaign’s use of imagery from white supremacist groups — is pointless. We know who Trump is.

Participating in an argument about semantics or symbols suggests that the president’s bigotry is up for debate. It’s not. Trump is profoundly, conspicuously, and proudly racist — we can take his words, and his campaign’s actions at face value.

It is not a coincidence that the president chose Tulsa — where white people burned a thriving Black district to the ground, murdering hundreds — for his rally and speech on the anti-racist protests across the country. Nor is it by chance that Stephen Miller, a white supremacist, is said to be writing the president’s speech. Trump chose Miller for the same reason he chose Tulsa and Nazi imagery: to inflame tensions and give a wink to the racists who support him.

Trump’s supporters would have us believe that his many racist comments — from calling Haiti, El Salvador, and African nations “shithole countries” to tweeting that young female congresswomen of color should “go back” to the “crime infested places from which they came” — are being misconstrued or taken out of context. They’ll say that the president’s detractors will call anything racist in an attempt to make him look bad.

The president doesn’t need to yell a racial slur for us to know he’s a racist — his dog whistles relay the same message.

After Trump’s tweet about the congresswomen, for example, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blamed liberals, saying it’s the far-left who will “throw accusations of racist at everyone, anyone who disagrees with them on anything.” And in a 2019 op-ed at the Wall Street Journal, conservative scholar Heather Mac Donald argued that it’s actually Democrats and the left who incite racism by… bringing up racism.

It’s a clever rhetorical ouroboros — by claiming that progressives see everything as racist, then nothing ever can be. The truth is far more clear-cut.

Trump thinks Mexicans are rapists, that white supremacists are “very fine people,” and that Muslims don’t belong in America. He believes protesters should be roughed up, that majority-Black neighborhoods are dangerous, and that the exonerated Central Park Five are guilty.

The president doesn’t need to yell a racial slur for us to know he’s a racist — his dog whistles relay the same message while giving himself and his supporters plausible deniability. So yes, the upside-down triangle is racist and meant to infuriate you and to stoke his base. This is who he is and what he does.

In advance of his Tulsa speech, the president told the Wall Street Journal on Thursday that he “made Juneteenth very famous.” Apparently, “nobody had ever heard of it.” What’s that saying from Maya Angelou? When someone shows you who they are—believe them.



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Jessica Valenti

Feminist author & columnist. Native NYer, pasta enthusiast.